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Japan Quake Upgraded To Magnitude 9.0 As Officials Say Partial Nuclear Meltdown Highly Possible

Staff Reporters |
March 12, 2011 | 10:08 a.m. PST

Melting down?
Melting down?

UPDATE 10:30 p.m. PST Saturday March 12: Japanese officials have uprgaded the killer quake that hit two nights ago to magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale. Previous measurements ranged between 8.4 and 8.9. Officials also now concede that a "partial meltdown" at a damaged nuclear power plant is "highly possible."  More than 200,000 people have been evacuated from around the battered plant complex as engineers struggle to prevent a catastrophe.  -- + --

Though earlier on Sunday there was growing confidence that a nuclear meltdown was not imminent at damaged atmic power plant, new fears have arused with reports of yet a new emergency at another reactor. The Los Angeles Times says the Japanese nuclear saftey agency reported an emergency at another reactor in the same complex where an explosion went off Saturday night.

Officials say that the cooling system at Unit 3 at the Fukuhsima Daichi nuclear plant. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that officials are preparing to release radioactive steam from Unit 3 in order to release mounting pressure caused by rising heat.

The death toll from the monsyer quake two days ago is now hovering arounf 1300, but officials say they cannout account for 9500 people in one remote area.

An explosion injured four people at another reactor Saturday night at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, but it did not cause damage to the core structure. Fumes from the explosion were expected to dissipate over the Pacific Ocean.

Though radiation leaks were reportedly weakening because of countermeasures taken by officials, the continuing leaks have brought Japanese officials to impose a 12-mile evacuation perimeter around the power plant. About 51,000 people have been evacuated.

"At this moment it appears to be the case that the public health risk is probably quite low," World Health Organization spokesman Gregory Hartl told Reuters. "We understand radiation that has escaped from the plant is very small in amount."

It's unknown so so far how the new emergency will impact the situation and how much closer it brings the country to a catastrophic meltdown.

That hasn't stopped authorities in the area from wearing gas masks and from checking people in the area for radiation levels. Officials were expected to offer potassium iodide tablets to avoid thyroid cancer from radiation exposure.

Around the northeastern corner of Japan, several aftershocks kept the country on guard. The death toll is expected to reach the thousands with tens of thousands of people still unaccounted for. Homes and cars were swept away by the tsunami that redrew Japan's shorelines in the wake of the magnitude 8.9 earthquake on Friday. The earthquake was large enough to speed up earth's rotation and tilt its axis.

The U.S. military will be part of the rescue efforts, with the Navy focusing on rescue operations in flooded areas. Five millions homes were without electricity, one million homes without water, 800,000 homes without phone service and 500,000 without heating because of unexpected failures in all of those systems. More than 300,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, according to the N.Y. Times.

Thousands more remain trapped in their homes. Helicopters are being employed to rescue them. Japan's 50,000 troops plan to also receive help in the rescue efforts from China, South Korea, Thailand and India.

For those who were evacuated, triage shelters were providing warmth and medical care to stave off illnesses such as pneumonia.

Japan's usually bustling capital of Tokyo was quiet on Saturday night, Al Jazeera reported. Meanwhile, Toyota has shut down production at 12 of its Japanese car manufacturing plants.



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